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Room to Write

May 26, 2011

As a part of my effort to produce my first draft of my novel, I signed up for the Room to Write retreat at the Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville, Tennessee, organized by Rabbi Rami Shapiro. (www.scarrittbennett.org)   The Room to Write program is designed to give writers a room, their meals, and then some programming for those who wish to take advantage of it.  Our programs included wonderful sessions by writer, book doctor and life coach, Charlotte Rains Dixon (www.wordstrumpet.com) and writer and social media professional Janet Wallace (http://socialdeviants.blogspot.com/), meditation and yoga, and learning how to use labyrinths as a spiritual and writing tool.  I arrived on Thursday evening and left on Sunday morning and had accomplished more in those few days than in the previous few months, combined.  I now visit Scarritt Bennett Center often and consider it one of my spiritual homes and spend a lot of my writing Wednesdays at the Front Porch Coffee Bar on the SBC campus.  I highly commend it.

When I began writing seriously, I enrolled at The Writer’s Loft at Middle Tennessee State University (www.mtsu.edu/theloft) and found that by making a commitment both financially and from a time standpoint, I had given myself permission to “make” room to write.  From there, I was accepted into the MFA in Creative Writing program at Spalding University in Louisville which upped the ante both in terms of financial and time commitments.  And by making such commitments, I consciously or subconsciously moved my writing, my art, much higher up on the life priority list.  Things that had commanded more of my attention, my energy and my valuable time were moved down the list.  I worked hard to budget my weeks and was blessed to have a family that supported me in all respects and in return, I worked to insure they stayed at the top of my priority list.  I put in my 40 hours a week at work, had dinner with the family and then, when things wound down in the evenings, say around 9 p.m., I would sequester myself and write.  I got up to write around 5 a.m. before others stirred.  Friday nights were always date nights with my wife, Saturdays were the days for chores, and Saturday nights were family nights.  I still worshiped with the family on Sunday morning after which came Sunday dinner and eventually I would steal away sometime Saturday afternoon and work until bedtime.  This allowed me significant time to write while still making sure I put in my time at the office and still had quality time with the family.  Among other things, this exercise helped me realize how much time I had been frittering away with things that really didn’t rank very high on my priority list.  I began to make room to write in my life.

Upon graduation from the MFA program, I became a mentor in The Writer’s Loft and then, eventually, a co-director of the program and a leader in the MFA alumni association, all of which I loved and have enjoyed immensely.  Home and personal responsibilities crept back in as did television and laziness.  My writing had been squeezed out of the room.  I didn’t feel as well and didn’t feel as rested even though I really wasn’t doing all that much.

In the last year or so, I have begun to write more seriously and have committed to my art again.  I sincerely thanked MTSU and The Writer’s Loft for allowing me to have served as director, explaining that I could either be an administrator or a writer, but I could not do both.  They were generous in their understanding and have allowed me to serve as Director Emeritus of the program and continue as a mentor/faculty member with a reduced student load.  I have asked to have my time and compensation reduced at my office and now use that weekday, usually, Wednesday, to write.  I have reduced my television and web surfing time but not as much as I would like.  I am writing more, am processing more of my life through my writing, and am feeling better and more energized.

Just this past weekend, I attended the Spalding MFA in Writing homecoming and the May Commencement of graduates.  Sena Jeter Naslund, the Program Director, and best selling author, delivered a masterful homily during the graduation ceremonies, this one entitled “Solitude.”  In it she described her experiences in taking a retreat to write:

“…I wasn’t fitting my writing into my life.  I was living to write.  I ate and prepared food only when I wanted. I slept and took walks according to the dictates of my work, not to fit in with the routines of others. I became my own person in a unique way.  And I found that it benefited my writing.  Almost literally, I could feel myself getting my own feet under me as a person. I became more stable, confident, and hopeful. Truly free of interruption, my focus as a writer became clear and sharp…”

This is what I experienced at Room to Write and what I experience when I carve out time out of my life to write rather than trying to write in the leftover scraps of time.  And this is what is allowing me to move through this novel.  I am becoming my own person in a unique way, getting my own feet under me as a person, stable, confident and hopeful.  As writers we tend to be an insecure lot, but truthfully, it takes a great deal of courage and will to return day after day to the page to tell our stories.  Typically, we’re not going to receive support from the world at large.  If we’re lucky, we will receive affirmation from our family and close friends.  If we’re blessed we find our ways to writing communities with other artists of like mind.  And if we live a charmed life, we find that solitude that helps us to become more stable, more confident and hopeful.

But it requires effort, and desire and a discipline to return day after day, week after week, word by word, to the page.  Ultimately the room to write isn’t a physical space but a carving out of a place in our lives and consecrating that place, dedicating that place, to creating, to telling, to processing.  It is a sacred space, sacred room, that must be fought for on a daily basis, a sense of not fitting writing into our lives, rather, the understanding that we live to create, to write.  For when it comes down to it, only you can tell your story, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, through poetry, plays or screenplays or journals or letters, whether you write for children or teens or seniors of for yourself.  It is your story and only your story and unless you tell it, the world will never know, will never benefit from it.

I have been given my story to tell.  It matters not whether the world considers it worthy of having been written.  That is beyond my control.  It is my gift and I must honor it.  I must carve out my room to write.

Practical notes from the week:  I’ve been working to get myself in better shape, physically.  So far, I’ve lost 16 pounds this year and am riding my bike more.  I’ve got a bike ride that I’m doing on Saturday in Clarksville and the weather is looking good.  My goal is to lose another 20 pounds at an average of about a pound a week.  The homecoming at Spalding University was a great, great experience, and I came away totally energized and am beholden to all who came.  Room to Write happens twice a year at Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville, Tennessee and I highly commend it to you.  And I am grateful for all of my new colleagues I met during my recent time there.  I can’t wait to see them all again come fall or next spring.  Our temp goats are doing marvelously well and I am hopeful that our “permanent” goats will be here sometime next week.  Who would have ever thought that a “dumb” city boy would ever have a barn, a tractor and some goats.  The storms have passed for now and my thoughts and prayers are with all of those who are still reassembling pieces from that which the tornadoes rent apart, especially in Alabama and Missouri.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Suzanne permalink
    May 27, 2011 11:12 am

    Thank you, Terry. This is good advice and full of wisdom.
    Suzanne

    p.s. YOU HAVE GOATS??

  2. May 27, 2011 5:33 pm

    Hi Terry, as usual your insight comes with good timing, welcome encouragement, and great advice. What you wrote about the room to write being a “carving out of a place in our lives and consecrating that place, dedicating that place, to creating, to telling, to processing” really resonates with me. Thanks so much for taking the time to post and share your journey and reflections with the rest of us.

  3. May 27, 2011 6:28 pm

    Thanks all. I do appreciate the kind comments. Sometimes I think we begin to feel as if we’re the only ones who struggle to get our words down. I am learning more and more that it’s universal and the more we talk about it, the less intimidating it is and the less guilt we feel…which results in a great sense of joy in getting to the page and also more success! And yes, Suzanne, I have goats! There’s actually a photo on my mobile uploads page on FB! Have a great and grand weekend, dear Suzanne and Gigi!

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